It’s a story as old as time: aging, booze- and drug-addled rock star meets banquet waitress with great voice who aspires to be a singer-songwriter (but lacks confidence); aging, booze- and drug-addled rock star gives banquet waitress with great voice who aspires to be a singer-songwriter (but lacks confidence) a chance; and… yadda-yadda-yadda. If it sounds familiar, chances are you’ve heard the title A Star Is Born before -- this is the film’s third remake, with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March starring in the 1937 original, followed by Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954, and Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson most recently doing it in 1976. It’s unclear what happened to the late ‘90s version to keep with the 20-ish year cycle, but it probably would have starred Celine Dion, so count your lucky, um, stars.
The newest incarnation proves that Bradley Cooper, who stars as Jackson Maine, is pretty talented behind the camera as he makes his directorial debut. And if you have to find an actress who can be really convincing as a singer, why not cast an incredibly good singer who happens to be a very impressive actress? Lady Gaga is excellent as Ally, who spends her nights singing other people’s songs in a drag bar until Jackson discovers her. From there, Ally shoots to superstardom as Jackson’s addictions catch up to him.
Though the story is somewhat predictable, Cooper, who wrote this version along with Eric Roth and Will Fetters, captures strong performances from his cast, including Sam Elliott as Jackson’s (very) older brother Bobby, and none other than Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s working-class Italian father. Cooper and Gaga’s chemistry is convincing; we can really feel Ally’s disorientation with being thrust into the limelight, and Cooper makes Jackson’s pain palpable. It can be tough at times to separate Gaga from Ally, and we have to wonder how she felt about playing a character who is resistant to augmenting her talent with flashy costumes and dancers. But the musical numbers -- all reportedly sung live instead of being lip-synced -- are nicely filmed, bringing the audience up on stage with the performers.
A Star Is Born feels a good 15 or 20 minutes too long, but it will break plenty of hearts out there, along with showing the studios that Cooper can direct, and Gaga can act.